Gustav, Palin News Shakes Focus On RNC Concerns over Hurricane Gustav prompted Republicans to scale down their convention kick-off on Monday. But today, as the event gets into full swing, GOP leaders are forced to deal with the media storm over revelations about vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin's family.
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Gustav, Palin News Shakes Focus On RNC

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Gustav, Palin News Shakes Focus On RNC

Gustav, Palin News Shakes Focus On RNC

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I'm Deborah Amos, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Michel Martin is in St. Paul, Minnesota, covering the Republican National Convention. Coming up, we'll speak with Republican organizer and former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele about the legacy of President Bush, that's in a moment. But first.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, 2008 Republican Presidential Nominee): We are here and we are here at the appointed place and we are here in the appointed town, so it's my privilege to proclaim the 2008 Republican National Convention in session and call it to order.

(Soundbite of applause)

AMOS: As I mentioned, Michel Martin is covering the Republican Convention that opened last night in St. Paul, Minneapolis, in St. Paul, Minnesota. And she joins us now with an update on the low key and abbreviated session. Hi, Michel.


Hi, Deborah.

AMOS: Sarah Palin is Alaska's governor who was tapped for the VP role, she has certainly dominated the headlines on that opening day, tell us about what people were saying.

MARTIN: It was a very strange day, it has to be said. Shortly after we finished the program yesterday word came that there was going to be an announcement from the McCain campaign about Sarah Palin. Now, you may know because as reporters we discuss this, there were internet rumors floating around that the youngest of Sarah Palin and Todd Palin's children was not in fact her daughter but her granddaughter. And that - and of course this is to reporters because what do you do with that information, is that relevant and that's the question that has to be asked. But is it true because - so raised of this difficult questions and then word came at the McCain campaign was putting out this announcement saying that in fact, Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter Bristol, who is unmarried, is pregnant. The announcement said that Bristol and her boyfriend were planning to get married and then of course it went on to ask for the media to respect this young couple's privacy. Needless to say, as we went to the convention later on that evening, it was a very short program. Everyone knew about it, no one took pains to bring it up. But everybody knew about it, and it was something that clearly the convention was grappling with.

AMOS: Yeah. We have some tape from Fed Farias, he' a delegate from Texas. So let's listen from what he had to say.

Mr. FED FARIAS (Republican Delegate, Texas): I mean, that's a personal matter, if anything else the way I perceive that is that, you know, those things happen in some families and it's a concern, it can happen. And you know, they're able to deal with that, and that's their personal issue, and I think they'll make the right decisions.

AMOS: Michel, is that the sentiment all around? Are there delegates saying other things?

MARTIN: In fact I couldn't find anybody who said anything differently. Now, clearly there are thousands of people here so there are probably a range of opinions. And it could be that everybody's just being very disciplined about sticking to their talking points. But for the most part of it a lot of people said that there's a very strong pro-life presence at this convention. And what most people said that they respect the fact that young Bristol has made the decision to keep the child and to raise the child, and that they consider this a personal family matter. But it certainly - it was certainly a set of difficult thing to grapple with on a day which there was not very much news to begin with, because the convention proceedings were only two hours long, and the purpose was to really focus on Hurricane Gustav relief effort. So it's clearly something that's kind of flown, thrown some - discord is not the right word but it's certainly a distraction at the very least. And I also think that it's just not clear how to handle this and what, what importance it's going to have as the days go on.

AMOS: So how did the first night go, considering all this background noise?

MARTIN: Well you know, I think to me the most poignant issue was that there are people from the Gulf states who had made - who had to make some difficult decisions about whether they are going to come or not, and who were very worried about what was going on back home. I talked to one man from Mississippi who said that he debated with himself up to an hour before he was scheduled to leave, about whether he should come or not. His wife finally persuaded him to go, saying that this is your first convention you've been working so hard for this, you've been looking forward to this, you deserve to go.

We talked to folks from Louisiana who said that their areas were unlikely to be directly affected by the hurricane, so they thought that the best thing they could do to advocate for their state and to keep the issue in front of the public was to come to the convention to represent and to let everybody know that Louisiana is still standing and to be an advocate for their state. So I think there was some poignancy on that floor last night despite the fact that the business proceedings were actually not terribly interesting. The highlight of course, being an appearance, a very brief appearance by First Lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, the wife of the nominee, also appealing for hurricane donations.

AMOS: We're going to wrap up with one clip that we do have from Matthew Wallace, and he's a 20-year-old from the Louisiana Delegation. He's a junior at Centenary College in Shreveport.

Mr. MATTHEW WALLACE (Republican Delegate, Louisiana): So I think the people who went back were a lot of our locally-elected officials. State elected officials who felt like they need to serve their constituents back at home. For me, I feel like I could best serve Louisiana here being an ambassador for our state. People want to know the straight story, they want to know what's going on back home. They want it - we need the people to know that we won't let Gustav get us down.

AMOS: And thanks very much, Michel, we'll talk to you tomorrow night or tomorrow morning.

MARTIN: Thank you, Deborah.

AMOS: Tell Me More host Michel Martin reporting from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. I'm Deborah Amos.

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